Building Multinational teams with help from the Culture Map

Balázs Kóti
October 6, 2023

At Voodoo Park we have people from more than 20 different countries working in hybrid teams across many miles and time zones. We’ve developed a lot of techniques for making these teams high functioning. One of the approaches we’ve used is based on Meyer’s ‘The Culture Map’. I’ll give a quick summary below and a glimpse of how we use it, but I’d recommend you read it if you have multinational teams.

In today’s globalized business world, remote, multinational teams are becoming increasingly common. While the benefits of working with colleagues from different countries are numerous, remote teams often face unique challenges related to communication and collaboration. To overcome these challenges, it’s essential to understand cultural differences and how they impact communication and work practices. Erin Meyer’s book, The Culture Map, is a comprehensive guide to navigating the complexities of global business and can help remote, multinational teams work together more effectively.

The Culture Map introduces the concept of cultural dimensions, the eight key areas that influence how people from different cultures communicate, collaborate, and make decisions.

  1. Communication: How direct or indirect people are when expressing their thoughts and feelings. How much is communicated by nuance and implication?
  2. Evaluation: How people approach feedback, criticism, and praise. Do they give direct or indirect feedback?
  3. Persuasion: How people try to convince others. Do they argue from principle or from the current application of that principle?
  4. Leading: The level of respect given to authority figures and the importance placed on formal titles.
  5. Deciding: How decisions are made. Ranging from top down to a consensual approach.
  6. Tusting: How trust is built, either task-based proof of reliability or relationship-based proof of character.
  7. Disagreeing: Avoiding or meeting confrontation head on.
  8. Scheduling: A linear or flexible view of time and timekeeping.

By understanding these cultural dimensions teams can better appreciate the cultural differences that exist within them and how they impact communication and collaboration. For example, team members from a culture that values indirect communication may feel some colleagues are poor listeners or even rude, because they don’t seem to get all the information being communicated.

One of the most useful aspects of Meyer’s book is the inclusion of spectrum diagrams that show where different cultures sit. This has been a real eye-opener.

To help remote, multinational teams work together more effectively, The Culture Map recommends the following (sensible and practical) steps:

  1. Assess your own cultural preferences: Team members should be aware of their own cultural background and how it influences their communication and work practices.
  2. Learn about other cultures: Team members should educate themselves about the cultural norms and preferences of their colleagues.
  3. Adjust communication styles: Team members should be willing to adapt their communication styles to better fit with the cultural norms of their colleagues.
  4. Re-evaluate decision-making processes: Teams should be aware of cultural differences in hierarchy and evaluation, and adjust their decision-making processes accordingly.
  5. Foster a culture of trust and respect: By understanding cultural differences and appreciating each other’s perspectives, team members can build better relationships and work more effectively together.

It’s worth remembering that Meyer’s work is best framed as an analysis of business cultures and not misinterpreted as racial stereotyping. It’s looking at social norms in a specific context. The other valuable takeaway is that there are no right ways to do any of the eight dimensions, any position on a spectrum has a positive impact in the right environments.

There’s no silver bullet here. Building global teams is a challenge and it took us years to get it right. But Meyer would be a good place to start if you’re having trouble or want to be more intentional in your team-building processes.